Justice Ginsburg on Empowering Oral Argument

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Legal Practice, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Justice GinsburgAn interview with Justice Ginsburg appears in the October issue of Elle magazine.  In the article, Justice Ginsburg describes her first oral argument before the United States Supreme Court.  Any advocate could relate to her story:

I had, I think, 12 minutes, or something like that, of argument.  I was very nervous.  In those days, the court sat from 10 to 12, and 1 to 3.  It was an afternoon argument.  I didn’t dare eat lunch.  There were many butterflies in my stomach.  I had a very well-prepared opening sentence I had memorized.  Looking at them, I thought, I’m talking to the most important court in the land, and they have to listen to me and that’s my captive audience.

Justice Ginsburg argued on behalf of Sharon Frontiero in Frontiero v. Richardson.  In that case the Court held that the United States military could not differentiate on the basis of gender in how it provides benefits to service members’ families.

In the interview, Justice Ginsburg recounts that as she spoke before the Court during oral argument her confidence grew:

I felt a sense of empowerment because I knew so much more about the case, the issue, than they did.  So I relied on myself as kind of a teacher to get them to think about gender.

 

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Wisconsin to Allow Same-Sex Marriage

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Category: Civil Rights, Human Rights, Public, Seventh Circuit, U.S. Supreme Court, Western District of Wisconsin
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wedding cakeOn Monday, the United States Supreme Court quietly denied certiorari on cases from three federal courts of appeals (the 4th Circuit, the 7th Circuit, and the 10th Circuit) that found bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The Court’s denial leaves those federal decisions standing, thus making same-sex marriage legal in five states: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The decision is also likely to mean that the other states covered by those federal appellate court districts—Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming—will also allow same-sex marriage. Or at least, they can’t ban it.

Most surprising to many SCOTUS observers was that the Court made no comment about its decision to deny certiorari. Read more »

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US Supreme Court Review: Two Employee Benefit Cases (Dudenhoeffer and Hobby Lobby)

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Category: Business Regulation, Corporate Law, Health Care, Labor & Employment Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.) This blog post is the third of three on labor and employment law cases by the United States Supreme Court in the last Term. This post focuses on two employee benefit law/ERISA cases: Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. First, a disclosure: Along with six other law professors, I co-wrote an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the Dudenhoeffer plaintiffs.

Dudenhoeffer involves so-called ERISA stock-drop litigation, which has been rampant in the federal courts for a couple of decades now. The basic formula of these cases is that, as part of the employer-sponsored retirement plan (whether an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) or a participant-directed 401(k) plan), the employer offers its own stock as either the entire pension plan investment or part of the pension plan investment.   When the company goes south and its stock price falls, plan fiduciaries find themselves in a difficult position as far as whether to sell the stock or to hold on to it. This is especially so when the plan fiduciary has conflicting duties as an officer of the company and as a fiduciary of the plan. As a corporate officer, not only is the person supposed to act in the best interests of shareholders to maximize the value of the company, but securities law forbids them to trade stock based on non-public material information. As a fiduciary to the ESOP or 401(k) plan, ERISA gives that same person an obligation to act in the best interest and with the same care as a prudent fiduciary would when making decisions about that employee benefit plan. And in case you are wondering, ERISA Section 408(c)(3) gives employers the ability to assign the same person both officer and plan fiduciary roles or set up so-called “dual-role fiduciaries.” Read more »

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US Supreme Court Review: Two Labor Law Cases (Noel Canning and Harris v. Quinn)

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Category: Labor & Employment Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court OT2013 logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.) Last month I commenced a series of posts of the United States Supreme Court’s labor and employment law decisions last term by blogging on the Court’s decision in the First Amendment public employee free speech case of Lane v. Franks, No. 13-483 (June 19, 2014).  In two separate blog posts, I will comment on two labor law Court decisions (NLRB v. Noel Canning and Harris v. Quinn) and two employee benefit/ERISA decisions (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer).  This post discusses the labor law cases.

To begin, National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, 134 S. Ct. 2550 (June 26, 2014), is obviously much more than just an ordinary labor law case.  Yes, it concerns the validity of decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) when it had a quorum based solely on presidential recess appointments from roughly January 2012 through August 2013.  More specifically, on January 4, 2012, President Obama, faced with the prospect of another two-member Board (see below why this is a problem), used his constitutional recess appointment powers to make three intra-recess appointments.  In an effort to prevent any intra-session appointments, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to give its consent to the Democratic-controlled Senate to go into recess.  See U.S. Const. Art. II, sec. 5 (“[n]either House, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days . . . .”).  In response, the Senate held very brief, pro forma sessions in which no business was conducted.

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“With Friends Like These . . .”: New Critiques of Graham and Miller

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal Scholarship, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Graham v. Florida (2010) and Miller v. Alabama (2012) undoubtedly constitute the most important developments in Eighth Amendment law over the past decade. Graham banned life-without -parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide offenses, while Miller prohibited mandatory LWOP for all juvenile offenders, even those convicted of murder. I have a lengthy analysis of the two decisions in this recently published article.

A special issue of the New Criminal Law Review now offers a pair of interesting critiques of Graham and Miller. Interestingly, both authors seem sympathetic to the bottom-line holdings of the two decisions, but they nonetheless disagree with central aspects of the Court’s reasoning (and, to some extent, also with one another). Both focus their criticisms on the Court’s use of scientific evidence regarding the differences between adolescent and adult brain functioning.

The more radical perspective comes from Mark Fondacaro, a psychologist who has emerged as a leading critic of retributive responses to crime and advocate for scientifically informed risk-management strategies.   Read more »

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Technology at the Court: Riley and Aereo

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Like the legal profession generally, the United States Supreme Court has a reputation as slow to embrace new technologies. For example, Justice Kagan shared in an interview last year that the Justices rarely use email. Yet at the end of the recent term, the Court decided cases affecting two evolving technologies: cell phones and streaming video services. Unanimous in the judgment in Riley v. California, the Court held that the search incident to arrest doctrine does not allow police officers to search through the contents of an arrestee’s cell phone without obtaining a warrant. In American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, the Court concluded that a provider of video streaming services engages in a public performance and infringes copyrights by using dedicated antennae to capture broadcast signals and then transmit them to subscribers over the internet. However, in the opinions in these cases, the Justices seem careful to avoid allowing any personal unfamiliarity with cell phones or with Aereo’s streaming service to affect the quality of their decisions. Instead, the Justices confront the technologies in a pragmatic manner, focusing on the functions easily accessible to average users and avoiding analysis of underlying technological details.

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US Supreme Court Review: Lane v. Franks

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Category: First Amendment, Labor & Employment Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

This past year has been another active one for labor and employment law cases at the United States Supreme Court.  Decisions have ranged from public employee free speech to the collection of dues by public-sector unions to the fiduciary duties owed under employee benefits law when a plan fiduciary invests in company stock.   This blog post focuses on the public employee free speech case, Lane v. Franks, No. 13-483 (June 19, 2014), while two subsequent posts will discuss the labor law cases of Harris v. Quinn and NLRB v. Noel Canning, and finally the ERISA case of Fifth Third Bancorp v. DudenhoefferRead more »

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US Supreme Court Review: Constitutional Criminal Cases

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Category: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

In my previous post, I discussed the Court’s recent Fourth Amendment decisions.  Here are this term’s other criminal cases that also center on constitutional issues (excluding habeas decisions):

  • Kansas v. Cheever, 571 U.S. __ (2013) (prosecutors could use testimony based on court-ordered mental examination of defendant in order to rebut defendant’s intoxication defense).
  • Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. __ (2014) (in capital case, state may not categorically limit intellectual disability defense to individuals with an IQ score of 70 or lower — see my earlier post here).
  • Kaley v. United States, 571 U.S. __ (2014) (when trying to overturn pretrial asset freeze affecting funds to be used for legal representation, defendant may not challenge grand jury’s probable cause determination).
  • Martinez v. Illinois, 572 U.S. __ (2014) (after jury empaneled and sworn, judge’s grant of defendant’s motion for “directed findings of not guilty” counted as acquittal for double jeopardy purposes and precluded appeal by state).

A notable recurring theme across this set of decisions is the Court’s desire to maintain a particular competitive balance at criminal trials.

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Chevron and the Hobby Lobby Decision

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Category: Business Regulation, Public, Religion & Law, U.S. Supreme Court
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Hobby Lobby logoThe majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case is founded on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the restrictions it places on the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) when she regulates and enforces the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While the issues raised by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion as to the battle of interests protected by the Constitution are significant, an important practical legal issue that was not addressed in the Hobby Lobby case is the power of HHS to interpret the meaning of the ACA. Considering the majority’s reliance on two terms that go undefined by the Court — “sincere religious belief” and “closely held corporation” [see page 29 of the slip opinion and footnote 28] — and the fact that none of the other Hobby Lobby opinions address the meaning of these terms, it is essential that these terms be defined as they fit into the ACA context.

The Court’s failure to address how HHS might interpret the meaning of these terms is reasonable considering that HHS has not acted to interpret the meaning of a “sincere religious belief” or a “closely held corporation” in the context of the ACA. In fact, the majority states explicitly that courts will be able to separate those with “sincere religious beliefs” from those who do not. However, despite the majority’s reference to the ability, and impliedly the power, of courts to interpret the terms “sincere religious beliefs” and “closely held corporations,” terms such as these have been regularly interpreted by federal agencies as they apply to the statutes these agencies enforce. Read more »

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US Supreme Court Review: Fourth Amendment Cases

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Category: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

On the criminal side of the Court’s docket, I found this term’s statutory interpretation cases more interesting than the constitutional cases. In the latter category, the Fourth Amendment decisions were probably the most significant. They were:

  • Fernandez v. California, 571 U.S. __ (2014) (police permissibly conducted warrantless consent search of home notwithstanding objection of one occupant).
  • Prado Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. __ (2014) (anonymous 911 call sufficiently justified stop of vehicle).
  • Riley v. California, 573 U.S. __ (2014) (warrant required for search of arrestee’s cell phone).

In reviewing these three cases, I think the most intriguing comparison is between Fernandez and Riley. The two decisions serve to highlight apparent inconsistencies in the Court’s stance toward search warrants.

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US Supreme Court Review: Should the Court Care How Effective a Statute Is?

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

In my previous post, I noted a number of the considerations that the Supreme Court emphasized in its criminal statutory interpretation cases from the past term. In this post, I will highlight one recurring point of controversy, that is, whether the Court should try to maximize the effectiveness of statutes in achieving their overarching purposes.

Abramski, the firearms purchase case, provides a good illustration.   Read more »

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US Supreme Court Review: Statutory Interpretation in Criminal Cases

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court OT2013 logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

In the first post in this series, I discussed two causation cases in some detail.  In this post, I will more briefly summarize the full set of the Court’s criminal statutory interpretation cases from the past term and then offer a few overarching observations.

Here are the cases (excluding habeas corpus decisions):   Read more »

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